Space-A can help you save a ton of money on plane tickets and is offered to many service members, retirees, and their dependents. The key to Space-A is knowing how to fly this way, having a lot of patience, and being able to be flexible. Here is what you should know about Space-A:
What is Space-A Travel?
Space-A is being able to travel on DOD aircraft, for free, or a limited cost. The flights you take are on a space available basis and the number of passengers they take will depend on the flight. Space-A can get you to many different places, all over the world, but some locations are harder to fly to than others.
When you fly Space-A, you have to do some planning and research. You will need to follow the rules for signing up and make sure you know your category and what that will mean for flights. You will need to make sure you are eligible and have all the right paperwork. You can travel with children but you do need to be prepared for the whole trip, and that might be more difficult than flying commercially.
What Are The Different Categories?
Those who are eligible for Space-A will fit into one of six different categories. These categories will determine how likely it is that you can fly. This however does not mean you will never get on a flight if you are CAT-VI. It just depends on how many other people there are ahead of you on any particular flight.
Category I: Emergency Leave Unfunded Travel-Which would be for emergency situations, not for anyone who is traveling for leisure reasons.
Category II: EML (Environmental Morale Leave)- This would be for Active Duty and their accompanied dependents.
Category III: Active Duty Ordinary Leave- This category also includes those on Terminal Leave as well as their accompanied dependents, those on House Hunting Permissive TDY, Medal of Honor Holders, and dependents of deployed service members as long as they are deployed for 365 consecutive days or more. It is important to note that these dependents will be selected behind active duty members no matter when they signed up.
Category IV: Unaccompanied Dependents on EML or dependents whose sponsor is deployed between and including 30-364 days as well as DODDS teachers on EML during the summer.
Category V: Unaccompanied command sponsored and non-command sponsored dependents of active duty, permissive TDY (non house hunting) and students.
Category VI: Retired as well as their accompanied Dependents, reserve, ROTC, NUPOC, and CEC.
Can Retirees Fly Space-A?
Yes, however, it also depends on what type of retiree you are. Those who are receiving retirement pay and have a BLUE retiree ID card as well as their accompanying dependents can use Space-A. Those who are considered a “Gray Area” retiree, have limited eliginity and their dependents can not fly Space-A.
Are You Able to Travel Without Your Service Member?
Only eligible dependents whose service member is stationed overseas, can travel unaccompanied, and would do so as CAT-V, with some CONUS restrictions. Those whose service member is deployed for 30 days or more, may travel unaccompanied anywhere that Space-A is allowed at a CAT-III, after active duty, or CAT-IV, based on how long they are deployed as mentioned above. If your spouse is not deployed, and stationed CONUS, you can not use Space-A unless you are with your service member.
What About National Guard or Reserve Members?
Reserve members on the active status list, may fly to and from, and between Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the CONUS as CAT-VI. They are unable to use Space-A to and from other locations and their dependents can not accompany them. If they are placed on active duty for more than 30 days, they can take ordinary leave and they and their dependents can use Space-A anywhere that Space-A goes. Dependents of those who are activated more than 30 days, will have the same Space-A privileges of an active duty dependent accompanied by their sponsor on ordinary leave, except they can’t travel unaccompanied under the command or non-command sponsored travel programs.
Can Widows or Widowers Use Space-A?
Widows and widowers of active duty and retired military personnel are not entitled to Space-A at this time. There has been some push for this to change.
What Do You Have To Do To Get On A Flight?
There is a process for getting on a Space-A flight. You need to make sure you complete all the steps and have everything you need to fly, otherwise you could end up being left behind on a flight you could otherwise have gone on.
The first thing you need to do is get authorized to travel on Space-A. This means starting leave if you are active duty, or getting a signed and dated deployment travel letter if you are an unaccompanied dependent. If you are a retiree you should be authorized when you are ready to start the process.
- You would then need to sign-up and register at the locations you plan to travel to and from. You can do this at some terminals through an online form, in person, by email, or by fax. This signing up doesn’t mean you are on a flight or have an exact flight time. What you will be doing is getting assigned a date and time. This will put you in front of anyone else in your same category who has a later date and/or time than you do.
- You will want to sign-up as soon as possible for as many places as you think you might go. If you are unsure of where you will be flying from, sign-up for all potential places. You however don’t want to sign-up too far in advance so that your sign-up expires before the date you want to fly. For active duty, you should sign-up as soon as your leave starts and that sign-up should last until your leave is over. For non-active duty, sign-ups are valid for 60 days.
- Each sign-up location is not affected by other locations and it would be a good idea to call to verify that you are signed-up and carry a printed copy of your emails verifying you have done so. That way, you can show that you should be on any list you need to use to travel.
Showing Up For A Flight
- The next step would be to show up before any potential flight you want to take. Flights will get posted and you can make your plan from there. You need to mark yourself “Present” for the flight you want to go on. This tells the terminal that you are there, and will be ready to fly when the time comes.
- When exactly you are marked “Present” doesn’t matter as far as where you are in line, the date and time of when you signed-up does, but you would need to be marked present within 24 hours of flight time.
- It is a good idea to get to the terminal, ready to fly with all of your bags and paperwork, about an hour before what is called, “Show Time.” You would then mark yourself “Present” by checking in at the desk and then just wait until “Show Time.” At this point, you do not want to leave the area, even to go grab a bite to eat. Times can change and you want to be ready if that happens.
Show Time and Roll Call
- “Show Time” is when “Roll Call” can begin and it is about 2-3 hours before it would be time to fly. You need to be aware of when “Show Time” is supposed to start, as well as what time you would fly if you make it on the flight. Always give yourself extra time.
- “Roll Call” is going to be when the date and time you “signed-up” for that location and the category you are in come into play. With “Roll Call” they start with CAT-I, and go through all the way until CAT-VI, or until they fill all the seats. For example, someone who is in CAT-IV, who signed up on June 1st, at 10:30 am will be ahead of someone who signed up for CAT-IV, on June 1st, at 11:30 am. All of CAT-IV would be ahead of all of CAT-5. They might just have 10 seats, or they might have 50 seats, it depends on the flight, aircraft, and how much space they actually have on the flight.
- You will need to be right there during “Roll Call.” If you are somewhere else, and they call your name, and you don’t check in, you will not make it on the flight. You will need to be travel ready when this happens.
- Being “Manifested” means you are selected for a flight, you will be going on this flight, unless the flight itself is cancelled or you get bumped for cargo. This is where you want to be.
- You can also be “Manifested Through” which means you won’t have to compete for a seat on your second flight. However, you need to make sure you are “Manifested Through” to your end location. This however does not mean you have your round trip covered. You will have to compete for seats on your return trip, whenever that might be.
How Much Does Space-A Travel Cost?
Most of the Space-A flights are free, however, if you take a Patriot Express flight, you will be charged a head tax and inspection fees. These fees are between $17.80-$35.20 depending on where you are going. A Patriot Express flight is Air Mobility Command’s name for its commercial charter flights. The process getting on the flight would be the same, however, these flights can sometimes be a little easier to get on, depending on when you are flying, and would be similar to a commercial flight flying experience. Make sure to bring cash to pay for this flight as not all places take a credit card. The rest of the flights would be on a military aircraft, which could be a cargo flight or a tanker and would look different than a commercial airline, although there wouldn’t be a cost.
You will also need to have extra money for possible stays in hotels, extra food, or even money for transportation. Because some flights get cancelled or they can be hard to get on right away, you might have to wait near the terminal for a few nights.
How Many Bags Can You Bring?
For Space-A, how much you can bring depends on the flight you are on. Some flights you can bring two pieces of luggage each, not to exceed 70lbs. Others, you have to be under 30lbs. If you plan to stay under 30lbs, including your hand carried luggage, you have increased your chances of getting on a flight.
Where Can You Go For Extra Help?
There are a few websites that have everything you would need to know about Space-A and can help you plan your trip, figure out flight times, and answer all of your questions about this method of travel.
The Air Mobility Command website– This is where you can read information about how Space-A works, sign-up for flights, and more.
SpaceA.net– An informational site with everything you would need to know about the ins and outs of Space-A travel.
Dick Pepperd’s Space-A Message Board– Flight information, lodging information, trip reports from your fellow travelers, and more.
Space-A Travelers Facebook Group– This group has over 70,000 people and a lot of great tips for Space-A travel.
Poppin’ Smoke– This blogger has a ton of Space-A posts about what to do, and how to make Space-A work for you.
Any Other Tips For Flying Space-A?
The main thing you need to remember is that Space-A is going to require some planning. You will need to spend some time researching where you are going to go, how many flights they have, and how easy it might be for you to get on a flight. Certain times of the year are busier than others and you will need to bring your patience.
Flights can get delayed, for days. You might go through the entire process, end up on a flight, only to have to get off and start all over again because there is something going on with the plane. You need to have a plan for if your first idea doesn’t work out.
There are a lot of benefits to flying Space-A. You can see the world, and can do so without having to spend a lot of money, but you have to understand that you will have to work for it. Some flights will be easier than others, and you just never really know what you will find when you attempt to fly Space-A.
If you need to get to your destination by a certain date, Space-A might not be the best way to get there. Unlike a commercial airline, you are not guaranteed a time and a place to fly. Being flexible and understanding is a must. If you can go into Space-A with that mindset, you can really enjoy everything Space-A has to offer.
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About the author
Julie Provost is a freelance writer, blogger, and owner of Soldier's Wife, Crazy Life, a support blog for military spouses. She lives in Tennessee with her National Guard husband and three boys.